Some Thoughts on the Short-Form Fraggle Rock Series

Back in the spring, the Henson Company released the clunkily titled short-form series “Fraggle Rock: Rock On!” I reviewed the first episode and didn’t expect to watch any more, but someone kept posting bootleg copies on the Cave-In Discord server. Curiosity got the best of me, and since each episode is less than 10 minutes long, I thought, “What the hey?” and watched them all.

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Cave-In Episode 11: Pasture-ized

I just realized that I haven’t posted anything here since the last Cave-In, at least not on the main page. Where did this month go? Straight to hell, if there’s any justice. Although one could say that this month WAS hell, and that’s a valid argument, too. It’s just a good thing that Weldon taught us all coping strategies last month, because boy, do we need them. 

Fortunately, this was a really fun episode that provided a welcome respite. The premise sounds vaguely familiar to us Muppet Pundit veterans. Coincidence? I think not. (I don’t KNOW, but I THINK not.)

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Muppet Guys Talking Livestream Event Honoring Jim Henson

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that this Saturday, May 16th, marks the 30th anniversary of Jim Henson’s death. To commemorate the occasion, the four surviving performers involved in Muppet Guys Talking are holding a livestreaming event at 4:00 p.m. ET that afternoon.

You can register for free by clicking the following link:

http://www.MuppetGuysTalking.com/jim

Once you register, you will also have the opportunity to submit questions, which I presume they will make an effort to answer during the conversation.

According to the confirmation email, those who register will receive a special viewing link via email the day before. It also says that it will be available for replay to those who register, regardless of whether or not you view the original livestream.

Registration is free, but the registration page also says that the livestream will be a COVID-19 fundraiser. Not sure how that’s supposed to work, but I guess we’ll find out on Saturday.

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Fraggle Friday: New Series, Mixed Feelings

About a month ago now, I guess, a new short-form series featuring the Fraggle Rock characters was announced. Redundantly titled Fraggle Rock: Rock On!, it premiered its first five-minute episode three weeks ago. Premise: the Fraggle Five use new radish-based technology in the form of “Doozer tubes” to communicate with each other, and with Traveling Matt, remotely.

Before the series premiered, I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, Fraggle Rock is precisely the right content for this peculiar moment in history because it’s all about meeting adversity with courage, compassion, and yes, even joy. On the other hand, one of the most wonderful things about the original Fraggle Rock is that it’s almost completely timeless. If they make a new, obliquely topical Fraggle Rock series, I wondered to myself, isn’t it going to lose that timeless quality?

Obviously, from a practical, Doylist perspective, I completely understand the need for the puppeteers to work distantly from one another. But from a Watsonian view, why would the Fraggles have to be in isolation? Wouldn’t you think that living underground would be an effective quarantine?

Then, of course, there was the big question: What of Wembley?

I watched the first episode online, and it answered a lot of my questions and alleviated some of my misgivings. But only some.

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Your Favorite Jim Henson Moments?

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I had so much fun doing 60 for 60 last year for Steve’s birthday that I’ve been toying with the idea of doing something similar in honor of Jim Henson—who was, after all, the founder of the feast. The year 2020 not only marks the 30th anniversary of Jim Henson’s death (as unbelievable as that seems), but it also would have been his 84th birthday. Now, 84 is not a milestone the way we usually think of it, but it is divisible by 12. So in theory, I could do what I did for 60 in 60, only with seven pieces a month instead of five. 

Nevertheless, it’s a daunting prospect. Jim was so prolific that even with an extra two pieces a month, it would be difficult to cover everything. I could make an entire year-long tribute out of Sesame Street clips alone. Also, so much of his career happened before I was born, and there’s a lot of material that I have never even seen. 

I haven’t decided yet if this is an idea I will follow through on, but it got me wondering: What are your favorite Jim Henson moments, friends? What are the songs and skits that make you laugh or cry? What would you cite to represent the best of him and his work? Why do you gravitate toward the productions that you do? What about a specific work resonates with you?

Share your ideas in the comments, and please feel free to include video clips as well!

The Final Pieces to the Puzzle: Steve Whitmire’s OCon Q&A

I originally drafted this back in August but held off posting it in hopes that the OCon organizers would post video of the Q&A. They have yet to do so, but I revisited this entry and discovered that it is as complete as it can be under the circumstances, so I’m posting it now. 

When I first met Steve on that Sunday morning in Omaha Council Bluffs, one of the first things we talked about was the Q&A that he was scheduled to do at noon that day. I told him that I intended to take notes at the Q&A so I could write about it on my blog later. I also pointed out that I’d never really done anything like that before, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go.

If I’d been more savvy and better organized, I would have tried to record it rather than taking notes. That way, even if I wasn’t able to post the video online, I would still have it as a reference and memory aid to help me write it.

Nevertheless, my notes of the Q&A probably would have been sufficient if I hadn’t spent the day at Steve’s booth and then devoted most of my mental energy towards remembering everything else that happened there. I should have reviewed my notes a few times in the immediate aftermath to encode those memories properly. Alas, I did not.

All of which is just to say that even with the benefit of notes, my memory of the Q&A is woefully incomplete. There are multiple phrases included in them that I have no idea what they mean. So unfortunately, (and ironically) my account of the Q&A is going to be less detailed than those of the rest of my day. I apologize. I’ll know better next time.

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Australian Bush Fire Relief

“In times of great peril and shared suffering, all of us should set aside our differences and reach out to one another in a spirit of love and understanding.”
                   –-Sprocket (Steve Whitmire) as interpreted by Doc (Gerry Parkes), Fraggle Rock, “Marooned” (written by David Young)

It may not be a shocking revelation to say that I have issues with the most popular Muppet fan sites. They also seem to have issues with me, and it’s a whole thing, and I don’t want to get into it right now. 

But the reason I bring it up at all is because I also believe very strongly that good deeds deserve recognition. At the moment, the two most prominent fan sites, Tough Pigs and The Muppet Mindset, are engaged in a fundraising campaign to support relief efforts in response to the devastating bush fires in Australia which, as I’m sure you already know, have killed so many animals, displaced so many people, and laid thousands of acres to waste. The fundraising effort is a worthwhile cause, and I am happy to support them in their noble endeavor. 

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Muppet Masters Q&A

Boy, did I discover an unexpected Christmas gift today! I was on YouTube, and one of the videos recommended to me was a Q&A from GalaxyCon Louisville back in November featuring Steve Whitmire and Kirk Thatcher:

It’s so great and entertaining and informative just in general, but here is what I particularly like about it: 

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Muppet Christmas Double Feature

Merry Christmas, all! By the time I post this, it will technically be Christmas Day, but in my mind, at least, it is still Christmas Eve. This evening I watched Christmas Eve on Sesame Street and “The Bells of Fraggle Rock” back to back. I decided to do that merely because I hadn’t watched either of them yet this season, but in the process I found that they are more closely related thematically than I ever realized, and probably more so than anyone involved intended. 

I have some deep thoughts about that, and I’d like to share them, but it’s really late right now (or early, depending on your point of view), and I am tired. So I’d just like to observe that if Cantus had been on Sesame Street while Big Bird was having his crisis of faith, he probably could have explained to Big Bird how Santa gets down the chimneys. 

However, knowing Cantus, he probably would have done so in an oblique, metaphorical way that would probably just have confused and frustrated Big Bird, so he probably would have ended up on the roof anyway. 

Nevertheless, that’s a scene that I wish existed, because I would love to see it. 

Sixty for 60: Culmination

60 for 60 collage

(Please enjoy this photo collage. I worked on it for the better part of an hour before trying to upload it, but my initial attempt was unsuccessful because the file size was too big. Apologies to those whose photos I’ve co-opted.)

Happy 60th birthday, Steve Whitmire! And welcome, everyone, to the final installment of 60 for 60. Every month for a year I’ve been celebrating Steve and this milestone by posting five examples of his work per month (mostly in the form of videos, but not exclusively) and making commentary about it. At this point, I’d like to take a look back of the year and choose the best from each month for a “Best of the Best” feature.

(As always, “best” in this case is subjective.)

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Semi-miked StocktonCon Q&A Panel

The interesting thing about searching for comic con panel discussions is that you don’t always find exactly what you asked for, but sometimes you find things that you would never have thought to look for specifically. 

I checked YouTube today to see if there were any panels from DragonCon available yet. It may be too early for that since it was just this weekend. I didn’t find any new DragonCon content, but I did find a panel from StocktonCon Steve did…*checks*…a month ago already! Wow…

Word of warning before I post it: Like at OCon, Steve and the moderator were miked, but the audience questions weren’t. Why? I have no idea. It seems like a no-brainer to me, but what do I know?

One thing I want to specifically point out about this panel is that Steve talks in glowing terms about Kermit’s interview with Ellen Degeneres. That is also a favorite appearance of mine, and it was surprising to me at the time that Ellen and Kermit had never met before. That, too, seemed like a no-brainer. I really wanted to work that interview into 60 for 60, but the only place I could have worked it in was during the Kermit month, and I opted for the backstage interview instead. If I have a regret about how it turned out, that may be it. 

In the meantime, I’m waiting quite impatiently to see if OCon is going to post video of Steve’s Q&A panel. I asked them via Twitter if we could expect it, but I haven’t received a response. Neither my notes nor my memory are really adequate to talk about it, but if I had the video with the notes to supplement it, I think I could recreate it for you with a reasonable degree of accuracy. 

Sixty for 60: Live Appearances by Muppets

Welcome to the final regular installment of 60 for 60, a year-long celebration of the work of Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his 60th birthday next month. This month’s theme is live appearances by Muppet characters.

Kermit TED talk

“The trick to the show [Muppets 2015], if it works, is to make it feel for the first time that you’re seeing the Muppets in our world.” –Bill Prady, SDCC Panel 2015

Of the many strange and perplexing things that happened in conjunction with the Muppets’ 2015 series, one that I found to be among the strangest and most perplexing was this bizarre statement by Bill Prady, that it would be the first time that the Muppets were in our world. How are they not in our world? Not only have six of their eight movies been set in our world, but the Muppets make live appearances in our world all the time. And when they do, it results in some of the best and most entertaining material because they’re usually a little freer to do some ad libbing and to be themselves, insofar as the Muppets have selves, which is a deep philosophical dive that I don’t think I’m ready to take at the moment and would probably require a whole other entry even if I were.

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Michigan Publication Interviews Steve, Fixates on Voices

This last weekend Steve was at Michigan Comic Con in Detroit, where he was gracious enough to give an interview for a publication based there, taking great care to emphasize the puppetry aspect of his work and that he’s not a voice person. 

So of course, the entire written interview is all about voices, with the puppetry mentioned only as an afterthought. 

Therefore, I recommend the accompanying YouTube video of the interview over the written version. Even though it looks like it’s been edited down somewhat, at least Steve gets to express himself in his own words: 

This video is actually really exciting, though, because Steve explains a bit more about his live-stream concept with Weldon. This is information that Steve actually told me when I met him in Omaha, but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to talk about it, so I erred on the side of caution in not mentioning it. But now he’s expressed it publicly, so I guess it’s okay for me to talk about it. 

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Sesame Saturday: A Panel Discussion With Sesame Street’s Gordon and Alan

Yesterday I mentioned the existence of full panels from last year’s OCon on YouTube, but what I failed to mention was that one of them featured Sesame Street actors Roscoe Orman (aka Gordon) and Alan Muraoka. I thought about it today and realized that might be of interest, so here it is:

Also, it appears from this that OCon just doesn’t provide microphones for audience questions at all, which seems to be very unusual. Nevertheless, given how hard it is to hear the audience questions on the video, it makes me very glad that I have notes of Steve’s Q&A, although it remains to be seen how helpful they will be. 

Sixty for 60: Interviews

Welcome back to 60 for 60, a year-long celebration of the work of Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his 60th birthday in a couple months. The theme for this month is interviews of Steve (not his characters), and it is unique in that not all five examples are available in video form. As a matter of fact, most of them are not.

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(Technically not a picture of an interview, but one I happen to like.)

I planned out the themes for each installment of 60 for 60 ten months ago. At that time, of course, I had no idea that I would actually have met Steve by this time. A lot has changed since I planned out this project, and the plan for this month has changed more than any other in the interim as I re-evaluate interviews that I was going to use and new interviews emerge. But what hasn’t changed is my wish to celebrate Steve himself rather than just his characters, although they’re important too.

I’m not a Muppet performer, and I’m not really a puppeteer despite a brief amateur stint. So I can’t say that I really know what it’s like, but I imagine that it must be an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, the anonymity that it affords you could be very valuable, but on the other hand, I can imagine that it would sometimes get frustrating to be part of something that is so popular and well known but only rarely get credit or recognition for it.

This month is all about that recognition.

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